Thursday, December 12, 2002

The Resurrection Blues

The most recent issue of Policy Review contains an excellent article by Lee Harris called "The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing". By this title alone, it should be clear that Harris isn't delving into the nature of Jeanine Garafalo's and Mike Farrel's motivations in opposing American action against Iraq. No, that topic is a better fit for Mad Magazine and a proper skewering by Al Jaffe.

Harris acknowledges that America bashing is all the rage across Europe, the Third World, and among the restless, liberal elite and coffee house revolutionaries of America. But his focus isn't on the common causes often cited for this phenomenon: envy, guilt, pride, ignorance, immaturity, the heart break of psoriasis. Rather, Harris focuses on its intellectual origin as a pure ideology, which is then disseminated and gradually diluted until lesser intellects can properly digest it, infuse it with their own pathologies (envy, guilt, pride, ignorance, etc.) and regurgitate it back in our faces as: "No War on Iraq" or "Bush Is the Real Terrorist."

And what is that intellectual origin you ask? Surprise! It's our old adversary, that rough and envious beast Marxism. According to Harris, the positioning of America as the ultimate evil in the world presents the opportunity of not only diminishing the influence of the single greatest exponent of capitalism in the world today, but also in saving the ideology of Marxism itself.

This process plays out as follows, as outlined by Harris and paraphrased by me (which I might add, I'm doing without his permission and above what I'm sure would be his strenuous objections as to my lack of qualifications to undertake this task):

Now then, (insert sound of me clearing my throat in a scholarly and credible manner) Marx believed that he had identified the historical pattern of economics which would inevitably lead to socialism. That is to say, socialism would not come about as a result of wishful thinking or through the idealistic pursuit of a utopian vision by the cognitive elite. No, to Marx, socialism had to occur because, as Harris states:

...the unavoidable breakdown of the capitalist system [which] would force the turn to socialism upon those societies that, prior to the breakdown, had been organized along capitalist lines. Schematically the scenario went something like this:

1) The capitalists would begin to suffer from a falling rate of profit.

2) The workers would therefore be "immiserized"; they would become poorer as the capitalists struggled to keep their own heads above water.

3) The poverty of the workers would drive them to overthrow the capitalist system--their poverty, not their ideals.

Unfortunately (for him and Noam Chomsky), since Marx wrote those words in the mid-19th century, these predictions of the future have proven to be quite incorrect. Over time, capitalists haven't suffered from a falling rate of profit, instead their profits and their creation of wealth has exploded. The workers in capitalist countries have not become immiserized--instead they've prospered immensely, especially compared to 19th century standards. And because of these favorable conditions, there has been no economic reason for them to overthrow the capitalist system--instead workers in First world nations have largely embraced the systems that produce the comfort and material wealth now at their disposal.

Because of these stubborn facts, it's been awfully hard to be an intellecuatully honest Marxist over the last 100 years or so. But that hasn't prevented those beholden to the faith from trying to rescue their dreams from the ash heap of history. Harris details various efforts to revise classic Marxist interpretations, so they could fit better with the historical facts. In particularly, he notes the concept of "relative immiserization," which began to be promoted in the early 20th century. This concept, grossly simplified, was that even though the proletariat's condition might be improving, it's not improving at the same rate as the condition of the capitalist class, therefore unrest would foment. However, this grasp at a philosophical straw has proven to be false as well. As summarized by Harris:

"The problem with this revision lay not in its economic premises, but its political ones. Could one realistically believe that workers would overthrow an economic system that was continually improving their own lot, simply because that of the capitalist class was improving at a marginally better rate?

Certainly, the workers might envy the capitalists; but such emotions simply could not supply the gigantic impetus required to overthrow a structure as massive as the capitalist system. Before workers of a capitalist society could unite, they had to feel they had nothing to lose--nothing to lose but their proverbial chains. For if they had homes and cars and boats and RVs to lose as well, then it became quite another matter.”

Because of this logical construct and its practical implications, relative immiserization, and by prerequisite association classical immiserization theory, have been largely discredited as accurate models of historical patterns. And thus the viability of Marxism itself comes into question. Harris again:

"For the failure of immiserization thesis is in fact the failure of classical Marxism. If there is no misery, there is no revolution, and if there is no revolution, there is no socialism. Q.E.D. Socialism goes back to being a utopian fantasy."

However, this entity isn't dead yet (and I get the feeling it never will be, given the stubborn and enduring nature of any widely believed religious doctrine). The latest theory revision giving Marxists the world over hope is that of "global immiserization," first proposed by Paul Baran in 1957 and expanded by Immanuel Wallerstein in 1974. In short, the so-called Baran-Wallerstein revision:

...propounded a causal connection between the prosperity of the advanced capitalist countries and the impoverishment of the Third World.

What Baran has done is to globalize the traditional doctrine of immiserization so that, instead of applying to the workers of the advanced capitalist countries, it now came to apply to the entire population of those countries that have not achieved advanced capitalism: It was the rest of the world that was being impoverished by capitalism, not the workers of the advanced countries.

If indeed [the phenomenon of America-bashing] aspires to be an objective and realistic assessment of the relationship of America to the rest of the world, then that element of seriousness is to be found in the global immiserization thesis: America has gotten rich by making other countries poor."

Harris doesn't endeavor to attempt to disprove the theory of global immiserization and therefore, neither will I--because I can't! (That is, I can't without using up the time and intellectual energy I have already budgeted toward putting together my fantasy football roster for this week.) But he does go about showing how this revision serves as the initial impetus for the worldwide anti-American activity of the Left. This particularly manifests itself in the odious valorization of 9-11 and of Arab terrorists as "the oppressed finally striking a blow against the oppressor."

Granted, those such as Woody Harrelson and R.T. Ryback probably don't fully appreciate the Marxist antecedents of their own beliefs in this regard. They're too caught up in their own pathologies and the ego-driven drama of being engaged in "righteous dissent" and of appearing to be more compassionate than the rest of us.

But next time you run into one of our friends from the Left defacing a Coleman billboard on I94 or staging a "die in" in front of the Orange Julius at Rosedale, or exiting a limo on their way into a dinner party at Garrison Keillor's house in Crocus Hill, I suggest you accuse them of embracing the Baran-Wallerstein revision of the immiserization thesis. I can't imagine they'll have a coherent response to this. But if they do, you’re on your own from there.

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